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Hong Kong Airport Set To Maximise Capacity

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

03 September 2008

Facing keen competition from its counterparts in mainland China and the wider region, the Hong Kong Airport Authority has revealed plans intended to maintain Hong Kong International Airport's position as the region's aviation hub.

Chief Executive Officer Stanley Hui told the Hong Kong government's online news portal that the authority plans to optimise facilities and services - increasing runway capacity and considering the construction of a third runway - to keep abreast of market developments and hone its competitive edge.

Mr Hui, who has been heading up the authority for more than a year, brings more than 30 years of aviation experience and professional knowledge to the post. He hopes to continue to strengthen Hong Kong's leadership position as a regional and global aviation centre.

Firstly, the authority and the Civil Aviation Department are working closely to maximise the two existing runways' capacity. Hourly air traffic movements will see an increase from 55 to 68 in 2015.

The two sides have evaluated four key areas: how far aircraft must be towed; how long the runways are closed in the evening; how much time aircraft occupy after landing; and the number of temporary aircraft stands.

The authority has also launched a study on the construction of a third runway, which is expected to take two years. Mr Hui said they need detailed research, including the estimated construction time, feasibility of landfills, resources and funds needed, and economic and environmental effects.

"A runway is a part of the airport and should be coordinated with the transportation network, terminals, freight area and aircraft aprons to promote Hong Kong's further economic development," he said.

For the year ended March 31, the number of passengers using the airport rose to 48.9 million from 45 million, while the amount of cargo shifted rose to 3.8 million tonnes. There were about 300,000 aircraft landings and takeoffs.

The authority estimates the airport passenger traffic and cargo throughput will almost double by 2025, to 80 million passengers and 8 million tonnes of cargo. Aircraft movements are expected to hit 490,000.

To meet the rapid development of the aviation industry and rising number of passengers, the authority launched a HKD4.5 billion (USD576mn) capacity-enhancement programme in 2006. It includes expanding the departures immigration halls in terminal 1, and building a new satellite concourse with 10 bridge-served aircraft stands to support small aircraft movements.

The authority has also taken steps to consolidate the airport's position as an international freight centre, investing HKD300 million to build 10 new cargo stands, bringing the total number to 34. A new cargo terminal will open in 2011, which is expected to push the airport's cargo throughput to 7.4 million tonnes a year.

A precious-metals depository has also been set up during the last year, to provide a central storage facility for traders, institutional investors, gold producers and refineries.

Though competition from other airports is steep, air transport research organisation Skytrax has named Hong Kong International Airport the world's best for the seventh time in eight years.

Mr Hui believes the airport has exclusive advantages, including its well-developed infrastructure and huge international aviation network.

"We have a well laid out and efficient transportation system to get people from downtown to the airport. Linking with the North Lantau Island highway, Tsing Ma Bridge, Western Harbour Tunnel and railways, the airport can operate smoothly and bring convenience for travelers," he observed.

Over the years, it has developed a network connecting with more than 150 cities - including 40 in the Mainland - with more than 800 flights daily. The huge global network and flight density contribute to its strong competitiveness.

Mr Hui also attributed the airport's success to Hong Kong's role as an international financial, logistics and tourist centre, which attracts travellers and helps establish a broad global network.

Since Beijing allowed direct flights across the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China beginning in July, Mr Hui expects the number of passengers transferring through Hong Kong between the two places may drop off - in the short term.

In the long term, though, the arrangement can help Hong Kong explore new markets - and benefit the development of the whole aviation industry, he predicted.

"The direct flights can bring more exchanges across the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. New markets will emerge and we will benefit from a bigger market than in the past," Mr Hui said.

As the procedure of applying for a Taiwan visa was simplified, that can improve the relationship with Hong Kong and promote tourism development between the two places, he added.

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